It is that time of the year again. The calendar has turned to spring, the weather is starting to warm up and soon the flowers and trees will be in full bloom.The arrival of spring also marks the start of a new climbing season on Mt. Everest, where hundreds of mountaineers will soon begin arriving in Base Camp. Last week, in preparation for the start of that new season, the Nepali government announced that they may instruct Sherpas to install a ladder at a crucial point on the world’s tallest mountain in order to improve safety. But the announcement was also met with criticism from the mountaineering community, with many saying the inclusion of the ladder changes the fundamental nature of the ascent.
According to reports, the ladder could be added to the crucial Hillary Step, which is so named because it was the last major hurdle that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had to overcome on their first ascent of Everest in 1953. It remains a daunting challenge to this day, and with so many climbers now on Everest, it can become a bottleneck at times. The narrow route requires those descending from the summit to use the same rope as those still going up. Traffic jams are often a result, even when Sherpas installed a second rope last season.
The inclusion of the ladder could make things even easier, allowing climbers to go up the Hillary Step more quickly, thereby negating some of the traffic jams. But Everest purists argue that it detracts from the challenge of the climb and diminishes what alpinists must accomplish in order to reach the top. Other critics say that by making the climb easier, Nepal is actually encouraging more people to try to summit the mountain, there by increasing crowds, and potential traffic jams, further. Either way, the idea of adding a ladder to the route has divided the mountaineering community, many of which don’t wish to see the successful summit of Everest diminished any further.
In fairness to Nepal, a ladder has been in place on the North Side of Everest for decades. The Chinese installed that latter at a point called the Second Step back in 1985, and it has assisted climbers on the way to the summit ever since. It has been there for so long now that it is basically just considered part of the route. Climbing the Second Step without it is nearly impossible, and there would be far fewer summits from the Tibetan side of the mountain if it weren’t there. Conventional wisdom says that while the climbers aren’t happy with the addition of a ladder on the Hillary Step now, that after a few years they wouldn’t think twice about it. That is, unless it fails to accomplish its goal of reducing traffic jams.
The first climbers will begin arriving in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, this week. Most will spend a few days there preparing for their expeditions, as they gather gear and meet with teammates before departing for the mountain. If they are climbing from the South Col route they’ll face an 8-10 day trek to Base Camp before the start of the actual climb. Those who are heading to Tibet to take on the Northeast Ridge will have to wait for the border to open before driving to BC on that side of the mountain. Once there, they’ll begin acclimatizing to the altitude as they prepare for the six-week climb that lies ahead.
Once those climbers are actually on the mountain, they’ll simply climb the route that is presented to them. Whether or not that includes a ladder or doesn’t, they’ll all have the same goal. Reaching the highest point on the planet.